ROTTERDAM — The latest tenant at ViaPort Rotterdam is new in more ways than one.
Skit and Kaboodle is designed around what it calls a new business model: providing enrichment programs for infants and children up to age 10 who have speech and language disabilities due to conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome.
Owner Lindsay Wynne recalled that when she checked with state regulators to see what sort of licenses or certifications she’d need, they were stumped, as the business was neither a school nor a medical facility.
“You’re kind of new,” Wynne recalls being told. “We haven’t had anything like this.”
She wound up not needing licenses.
The storefront is in a corner of the mall’s food court. It has been open a week and a half and will host a grand opening celebration from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Through hour-long classes featuring music and drama, Skit and Kaboodle is designed to help children develop life skills, including literacy, problem-solving, language development and confidence.
At this point, parents must be present while their children pursue the activities. If she adds a second employee, as she hopes to, Wynne will offer drop-off classes so parents can go elsewhere in the mall.
Older children and even young adults are welcome to participate in the programs, as are children without learning disabilities.
Among the latter group was 2-year-old Hilton Quail, of Schenectady, a repeat visitor who was romping through Skit and Kaboodle Friday morning. He gave the playspace an approving smile when asked; mom Glenda Quail voiced her appreciation for its educational benefits.
It was a winding road that led Wynne to open Skit and Kaboodle, but one she set out on early. She attended the same school where her mother was a special education teacher, and during recess periods, she’d often read to her mom’s students.
“I thought I wanted to be a teacher from the first grade,” said Wynne, who is now 27.
She attended Hartwick College for theater and music education but also did some special education coursework there.
She followed her Hartwick boyfriend to his native Boston after graduation and looked in vain for a teaching post. She wound up working instead as a nanny to twin toddler boys and put to work some of the educational concepts she learned in school. She later returned to the Capital Region and became a teacher in the tiny Maplewood Common School District, near her native Latham.
She taught there for two years before wanting to go in a different direction with education.
“I just saw such a huge disconnect from school to the rest of the world,” Wynne said. “Everything is about testing now.”
Wynne developed a model for what she wanted to accomplish, then started taking it into a preschool to test, practice and refine it.
After an entrepreneurial boot camp with the Capital Region Chamber, she felt ready to go into business.
Skit and Kaboodle is not designed to replace traditional schooling. Rather, it seeks to complement it in a way specially designed for those who have trouble in traditional schools.
“I’m not able to teach the square root of something,” Wynne said. “So it’s definitely a supplement, but also a stepping stone.”
Prices range from $8 for open playtime to $20 for one-hour classes.
The mall location was a good one for Wynne. The now-fiance from Boston followed her back to the Capital Region, and they bought a house in westernmost Schenectady: a four-minute drive from ViaPort. He works as a plumber, and along with other family members, he was able to do the construction work to convert the space into Skit and Kaboodle at minimal expense.
“I’m really lucky that I have the support I do,” Wynne said. “This is needed.”